Miami Dolphins: What does Jay Cutler signing mean for Ryan Tannehill?

Today’s news might signal the end for Ryan Tannehill with the Dolphins. (Getty Images)

The roar now is for Jay Cutler, who will be the star of Dolphins training camp whenever he arrives, and things are going to quiet down considerably for Ryan Tannehill.

For the first time in his six-year career with the Dolphins, he slides into the background as an afterthought. He was a starter from his debut, lining up for 77 straight games before suffering a partially torn ACL in his left knee last December. Even as Miami continued pushing toward the playoffs with Matt Moore, the story was still whether Tannehill would make it back by the end of the year.

There won’t be nearly that level of suspense now. Cutler surely didn’t come out of retirement just to fill in for a handful of games. His signing with the Dolphins indicates Tannehill will be out long term.

If he opts for knee surgery, that undoubtedly puts him on Injured Reserve for the entire season and even brings into question whether he’d be ready for the 2018 opener. That’s a brutal reality for a 29-year-old who gave indications last year that he was headed toward a breakthrough.

If Tannehill goes for rehab again, as he did last year, it keeps in play the possibility of him returning this season, but it also heightens the concern about the durability of his knee. For the foreseeable future, there will be uneasiness within the organization and the fan base any time he steps awkwardly or gets hit low.

Furthermore, if things are going well under Cutler, the Dolphins will have a tough decision on whether to reinsert Tannehill as the starter. If the season is already lost at that point, there’d be no reason to risk anything with Tannehill’s health.

And then there’s this part: Miami is scheduled to pay Tannehill $80.7 million over the upcoming four seasons.

His $20.3 million cap hit this year is the largest on the team, accounting for 11.5 percent of total space, and ninth-biggest in the league. The Dolphins are on the hook for that either way, but the remaining $60 million or so forces them to consider whether Tannehill, who has yet to make his way into the top half of NFL starting quarterbacks and risks with his knee, is really their future.

The team has the option to get out of the last three years of his contract for just $4.6 million in dead money, basically just the remaining pieces of his signing bonus. Freeing up that kind of cap space would enable Miami to take on another veteran or add some pieces and consider using Cutler as a bridge to future rookie.

[Here’s why Dolphins fans need to measure their expectations of Jay Cutler]

[Jay Cutler must be more than a mercenary]

[Miami Dolphins react to Ryan Tannehill’s “sickening” knee injury]

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